Call it lack of awareness or naivete, but as a child I had no idea my family was poor. We had food on the table, clothes on our backs and plenty of love to go around so I never felt lacking. It didn't occur to me to question wearing hand-me-down blouses or homemade dresses that my mother sewed for us. Coming from a large family, I just assumed these to be normal, practical things that most families did.
The fact that I was unaware of our socioeconomic status says more about my upbringing than it says about me. I loved the meals my parents prepared out of leftovers, stretching our Sunday pot roast well into mid-week. I felt lucky to inherit one of my older sisters coveted outfits. And sharing a bed with my younger sibling was much more of a comfort than a burden--save for those times she gouged me with a sharp toenail.
It wasn't until I was much older that I began to understand how challenging it must have been to feed seven children on a rural minister's income. I have faint memories of falling asleep in the back seat of our car when my mom drove thirty miles to pick up my dad from his second-shift job. He worked at a Brunswick factory where he'd sometimes bring home defective bowling pins for us to play with. We loved those wooden pins, painting faces on them and gluing yarn on the top for hair. According to family legend he once brought home bowling shoes for us to wear. I was too young to remember it, but I heard how my older sisters pitched a fit and refused to wear the shoes to school. My dad insisted they were the same as saddle shoes and his ungrateful daughters should be happy to have them. My teen sisters begged to differ and the shoes "went missing" after that.
When drawing the character of Reverend Carter in THIS I KNOW I drew from my own experience of growing up with a man who could squeeze 200 pennies out of a dollar. He accepted gifts of venison from church members and had it ground with pork suet so his kids wouldn't balk at the wild taste. He milked his clergy discount wherever and whenever he could, often embarrassing my mom. And he cut coupons like nobody's business, stuffing his suit pockets, his wallet, and the glove compartment of our Plymouth until the little door wouldn't stay shut.
One of my favorite scenes in THIS I KNOW is when Grace goes grocery shopping with her Daddy:
When our basket is nearly full, Daddy stops in the middle of the aisle and thumbs through his stack of coupons looking for ten cents off Charmin. When he finds it, he pulls three packages off the shelf and dumps them in the cart. He doesn’t squeeze them even a little bit. I glance over the list and draw a line through
TP. Daddy never spells it out. Maybe he worries
about dropping the list and somebody finding out Pastor Carter wipes his behind
just like everybody else. Which is kind of funny since he spends more time in
the bathroom than anyone else I know.
You'd think that growing up having less would make me want more as an adult, but the opposite is true. My dad taught me the value of love over needless things. I live in a 400 square foot granny unit. I drive a 16 year-old car. I shop at thrift stores. I recycle or re-purpose whenever possible. I cut my own hair. And I rarely buy anything I don't need. Unless. Unless I have a coupon. Or it's a really, really good deal. In which case I've been known to blow money on restaurants, spas, concerts and bookstores. Yesterday I bought a new story board at Office Max. I'd been using push-pins to tack my scenes onto a wall but they had white boards for half off retail. I rationalized that the new dry-erase board would make writing the next book easier but the truth is I inherited the thrill of saving a buck from my dad.
I'm not cheap--I tip well and happily pay for quality products and services. But I still love a good bargain. I subscribe to Bookbub, scour the internet for airfare deals and never pay rack rate for a hotel room. Which is why I want to acknowledge that $26 for a hardcover book is a bit steep for some of our budgets. I'm thrilled to share that my publisher is running a sale on THIS I KNOW for 90% off the cover price. My dad was frugal but he was also generous. If he were alive today I bet he'd buy every one of you a copy.